In her new monthly column, The Moon in Full, Nina MacLaughlin illuminates humanity’s long-standing lunar fascination. Each installment will be published in advance of the full moon.
An electric blue dusk in an April eight years ago, and a fat full moon was showing off above the trees. I was away from home and walking to a bar to celebrate something privately, and I paused on my way to watch the moon move, its blond glow shifting bonier as it tracked its path higher into the coppery blue. “Beautiful night,” said the bartender when I took a seat. “Beautiful night, beautiful moon,” I said. He poured my drink and an older gentleman on the stool to my right leaned toward me and asked with a sticky blue cheese voice, “What does a young woman like you think of the full moon?” I laughed. Was he asking me if my womb was throbbing? What does anyone think of the full moon? I told him I didn’t know how to answer that question. I’ve been thinking about it since.
It’s April again, surging month, and the full moon rises tonight. What do you think of the moon? Joyce considers “her luminary reflection … her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage … her arid seas, her silence.” So: light, power, water, beauty, insanity, delinquency, tranquility, inscrutability, silence. It’s a start. The moon reflects back what we aim at it; what we see there tells us as much about ourselves as it does about this chalky pearl two hundred forty thousand miles away, give and take. “Between us / we had seventeen words / to describe the moon,” writes the poet Arundhathi Subramaniam. I wonder what they were. Let’s see how many we can come up with.
Before that, one word. In more than two dozen languages, the words for month and moon are the same. In Croatian, mjesec; Czech, měsíc; Slovak, mesiac. In Filipino, buwan; in Malay, bulan. In Japanese, 月 (tsuki); Hmong, lub hlis; Maori, marama; Igbo, onwa; and Zulu, inyanga. In Romanian, Estonian, Uzbek, and Turkish: lună, kuu, oy, ay. Our timekeeper, our month maker, our definer of cycles, tetherballing around us in 27.32-day spans. I say our as though we own it, as though it belongs to us, attached to where we are by the invisible bands of gravity. It does not belong to us. If anything, we belong to it, subjects to its rhythms, its pull, its power, the night’s one glowing, slow-blinking eye. Across the world, notions of month and moon mingle and mesh in the very language they’re expressed. You cannot talk about one without talking about the other. Read More